Most herbs are fairly easy to cultivate, but a few need a little more attention and know-how. Below are ten of the most popular and widely used herbs to grow yourself.
Basil has a strong clove-like flavor and is a popular addition to many Italian dishes. It is synonymous with tomatoes, spaghetti sauce, pizza and salads. Basil is one of the slightly more difficult herbs to grow as it is a tender annual and needs to be sheltered from frost.
To grow. it needs to be sown under glass in a peat pot in March to April. It can then be planted out in early June in a well-drained, sunny spot.
Plants should be spaced about a foot apart and the growing tips should be pinched out regularly, this will ensure a bushy rather than tall plant.
The leaves can be gathered as and when needed. To preserve some of your crop of basil for the winter it can be frozen. Simply chop up the basil and add to ice-cube trays topped up with water.
Bay is an evergreen, laurel-like tree often grown in containers and trimmed into a decorative shape. Although fairly slow growing, beware if not pruned regularly the bay tree can become quite large.
To grow bay it is best to buy a pot-grown specimen and plant it out in the spring. It is best placed in a sheltered position, away from winds. It should be planted in soil containing lime.
Remember to water frequently in summer and pick leaves as required. The leaves can be dried very successfully. Bay can be used in bouquet garni and goes well in casseroles, stews and fish dishes.
Chamomile is known for its soothing properties and is often consumed as a calming tea. The best type of chamomile to grow is the English or Roman chamomile.
This is a creeping perennial which grows to about 6in tall, with a 1-2ft spread. It has decorative yellow-centered white flowers and feathery leaves. To grow chamomile, plant clumps or sow seeds in Spring or Autumn.
Leave about 9in between each plant. When the plants are established they tend to spread at quite a rapid rate. For this reason they should be trimmed back to avoid them becoming invasive. The plants should be lifted and divided every 3 years.
Chives are a member of the onion family, but their flavor is milder than onions. They add interest to salads, in particular potato salad. They are also useful in omelets, soups, and sauces. Chives can be grown from seed sown in March, but it is simpler to plant pot-grown chives in spring or autumn.
The plants need to be spaced 9in apart and divided every 3-4 years. They benefit from being grown in moist soil and full sun. Plants should be watered regularly.
To use, the stems should be cut to within an inch of the soil level. Never snip off the tips or let the flower heads open up if you want your crop to continue producing.
Dill is often considered a necessary ingredient to go with certain fish dishes such as salmon. It is also a tasty addition to yogurt, meat as well as vegetable dishes.
It has very attractive feathery leaves and grows to about 2 feet tall and bears flat plates of small yellow flowers in July. The leaves have a distinct flavor which is retained even after drying.
The seeds can also be used and when lightly crushed they produce an even stronger taste. Dill does not take well to being moved, so once you have found the ideal growing spot it is best to leave it there. To grow dill, sow seeds in April and leave to grow.
Once established the seeds can then be thinned to 12in apart. They prefer a sunny, well drained spot and should be kept well watered in dry weather. To gather the seeds, cut the stems when the flower-heads have turned brown.
You should then tie a paper bag over each flower-head and hang the stems upside-down in bunches. Dill is best gathered for immediate use and for drying when still young.
Lavender has been grown for centuries for the wonderful scent and its healing properties. It is used to calm and soothe the nerves and to help to promote a good night’s sleep.
Lavender can also be a wonderful addition to a border in the garden, attracting bees and releasing its heady scent in summer. There are many different varieties of lavender that you can grow, but the method of growing them remains the same.
Lavender benefits from a sunny, well-drained growing site. Depending on the variety it will grow to 1-3 ft., so sufficient space should be provided to allow the plant to spread.
You will see better results if rooted cuttings rather than seeds are planted. The plants should be planted out about a foot apart. Once the flowers have faded the plant should be pruned, but do not cut back into the old wood.
The plants generally become ‘leggy’ after about 5 years and will need to be replanted.
Another popular use of lavender is to add it to potpourri or lavender bags to scent a room. While lavender can sometimes be used to garnish a dish, it is not an herb that lends itself to food recipes.
Mint is one of the most popular herbs used in cooking along with Parsley. Mint sprigs can be used to add interest to vegetables in particular new potatoes and peas. It also goes well in some Mediterranean dishes. It is also used for making mint sauce or jelly to accompany roast lamb.
Mint is one of the easier herbs to grow, in fact in some cases too easy. It can spread at lightning speed and become extremely invasive in your garden.
For this reason it is recommended that you grow it in a planter or tub, either in the ground to restrict its roots or as a patio pot herb. If planting in the ground it may be a good idea to sink plastic or metal sheets into the soil to stop the mint from spreading.
There are several types of mint you can grow. Spearmint (garden mint) is the usual one, but Bowles mint is the variety most recommended for mint sauce.
In order to grow mint, plant pieces of root 2 inches deep and 9 inches apart in the autumn or spring. Be sure to top dress with compost in autumn if the plants are not to be lifted annually.
There are various different varieties of parsley. The decorative variety is the curly-leaved type whilst flat-leaf parsley tends to have the most flavors. In addition to being an interesting garnish for foods, Parsley can be used for sauces, soups, stews etc. and is one of the most versatile herbs.
To grow parsley, sow seeds half an inch deep in April for a summer and autumn crop and again in August for a winter crop. Germination of parsley is quite slow and this may take up to a couple of months.
It is best grown in rich soil in semi-shade. The seedlings should be thinned to 9in apart. Plants should be watered in dry weather. In winter they should be covered with a cloche or some straw to protect from the elements.
Flowering stems should be removed as soon as they appear. But if you want to retain some seeds for the following year, leave some stems. You should harvest the crop at regular intervals to ensure a continuous supply of fresh leaves. If you want to dry your parsley, dip sprigs in boiling water for 2 minutes and then place in a cool oven to crisp up. Crush and store as soon as the leaves are dry.
Rosemary is a very strong herb which needs to be used sparingly in cooking. It traditionally goes well with lamb, pork, or veal, but is often used to enhance soups and gravy.
Rosemary is an attractive plant but one of the more tender herbs to grow. It is an evergreen shrub that requires well-drained soil. It also likes a sunny, sheltered spot to thrive. It is suitable for growing in a border, herb garden or tub.
It needs to be picked regularly and pruned in the spring to keep it at about 2ft high. Both the needle-like leaves and blue flowers can be used in cooking. You can grow rosemary from seed; however it is much easier to buy a pot-grown plant in the spring.
Thyme and parsley are the traditional herbs used in poultry stuffing recipes. However, thyme it is just as valuable on its own for rubbing onto meat to add flavor or cooking with chicken or added to stews. It is a fairly strong herb, so must be used sparingly.
Thyme is an aromatic, evergreen low growing shrub, so leaves can be picked all year round. This makes it a perfect herb to grow for continuous use. To grow thyme, plant pot-grown plants about 1 foot apart in a well-drained sunny spot in spring.
Pick the leaves as and when needed. The plants should be lifted and divided every 3 years. It will grow equally well in a pot or on a windowsill.
Why do we grow herbs?
There are various reasons why herbs are grown. Over the centuries herbs have been cultivated for their medicinal and healing properties but this practice has lessened due to the introduction of modern medicines.
Herbs are more widely grown nowadays to enhance culinary dishes, for their scent such as Lavender or as attractive additions to flower borders.
One of the benefits of growing your own herbs is that anyone can do it. Herbs can be grown in a garden, in pots or just on your windowsill, ensuring that you have fresh herbs whenever you need them.